Education Opinion

What Would a Progressive Edu-ALEC Look Like?

By Nancy Flanagan — February 21, 2014 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Mention the word “policy” and most teachers’ eyes glaze over. Actually, most Americans’ eyes glaze over. Unless you can edit policy down into a catchy, snarky sound bite--effectively putting a face on a political dartboard--lots of folks just aren’t interested. Pass the popcorn.

Until, of course, a new policy directly impacts their day-to-day living, their personal passion (like owning a gun)--or their children. At which point, the long process of making policy--who fed the sausage-makers, and why--is in the rear view mirror.

This is precisely the position American public school teachers find themselves in, at the moment. All the groundwork destabilizing America’s best idea--a free, high-quality fully public education for every child--has been laid. Now it’s just a matter of presenting a series of policy “options”--Parent “triggers?” “Enterprise Zones” for private-school vouchers? “Alternative certifications” to give new college grads a couple of resume'-boosting gap years before grad school?

Frankly, it’s too late for educators to complain about not having a place at their own table. The table is in another room in another city--and teachers aren’t invited. Policy controls their work to a rapidly increasing degree. For younger teachers, it’s boiled-frog syndrome--having federal and state policies deeply impacting their curriculum, instruction, assessment practice and their own evaluations are just the way it is. Antique teachers, like me, remember a time when local control (for better--and much worse) ruled the day in public education.

I was chatting about this major shift toward top-down education policy with my friend Betsy Coffia, who has just launched her campaign for a seat in the Michigan legislature. We were hashing over the incredible impact that ALEC has had on our own state’s education policies--and our anger over the idea that a private, mega-funded group with a clear agenda could raise funds, hire wonky whiz kids to write and pre-package legislation, then offer those policies to sympathetic legislators who went to the trouble of getting themselves elected.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington? No.

But is it fair to expect state legislators and members of Congress to be fully informed about the entire range of policy issues, to craft a stream of innovative policy levers based on research and principle? It’s a big job, and in states like ours with strict term limits, you can see how handy it would be to have shortcuts (a euphemism if there ever was one) to proposing legislation and getting it passed. So people will re-elect you.

Even though the whole question feels wrong to me, it’s fun to think about what a progressive, pro-public education policy house with the resources and political capital of an ALEC would produce. I realize that “progressive” is an imperfect descriptor--and that there are already many partisan and leftish think tanks and organizations producing policy models reflecting the idea that market competition or another set of standards will “save” public education. I also realize that Bill Gates is spending 20% of his hundreds of millions in advocacy to bring policy-makers who hate ALEC into this camp.

What if there were another source for policy models--policy based on working toward equity, preserving what’s good in our vast public school infrastructure? What kinds of policies--not reactions to misguided policies, but new ideas--would they produce?

How would they support and develop underfunded, heavily stressed urban districts? What would policies around school and teacher accountability look like, if they weren’t punitive and based on tests? What guidelines for state and federal funding could be established? What policy incentives would improve teaching? Bring curriculum into the 21st century? Build stronger community schools?

What ideas could we--educators--develop and pass along to policy-makers?

Recently, my state representative, Ray Franz, who sits on the Education Committee, called me to talk about a piece of legislation that required retention of all 3rd graders who didn’t pass the state reading assessment. There is plenty of research and opinion about why that’s a very bad idea, but he had seen a presentation “from Florida” and was convinced. We spoke at length, and I had some good information to share. When we ended the conversation, he thanked me and said he didn’t really understand teaching, because he was a meat cutter.

I’d like to think that the American ideal of ordinary folks who go into public service isn’t dead or completely compromised. I’d also like to think that every teacher who asked for the proverbial “place at the table” had some great ideas that could be shaped into innovative policy--policy that provided equitable solutions to problems in education.

What are your policy ideas, educators? If you were in a position to propose legislation and advocate for your policy ideas, where would you start?

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Trauma-Informed Practices & the Construction of the Deep Reading Brain
Join Ryan Lee-James, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, director of the Rollins Center for Language and Literacy, with Renée Boynton-Jarrett, MD, ScD., Vital Village Community Engagement Network; Neena McConnico, Ph.D, LMHC, Child Witness to Violence Project; and Sondra
Content provided by Rollins Center

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Hundreds of Conn. Bus Drivers Threaten to Walk Off the Job Over Vaccine Mandate
More than 200 school bus drivers could walk off the job in response to a vaccination mandate that goes into effect Monday.
1 min read
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk.
Rows of school buses are parked at their terminal, in Zelienople, Pa. Reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic means putting children on school buses, and districts are working on plans to limit the risk. <br/>
Keith Srakocic/AP Photo
Education Briefly Stated: September 22, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)